Where in the World is Women Employed?

Women Employed
14 min readMar 27, 2024

Women’s History Month is always a busy time at Women Employed. And this March ushered in an abundance of panel discussions, site visits, conferences, galas, and much more! WE honored the life and legacy of Marilyn Katz, a Chicago advocate who truly did make history for women. And WE even found time to gather as a team to celebrate our very own Senior Development Officer, Amanda Sousa, as she prepares to welcome her baby girl!

WE are thankful for every stage, every rally, every celebration, and every event we are invited to attend and every opportunity to amplify our message. And we thank you for coming along with us on this ever-evolving journey. Here’s a recap of where we have been and be sneak peak into where we are going next!

Work Without Fear Act

On Wednesday, February 21st, WE visited the Illinois State Capitol, where we talked to lawmakers and highlighted the urgent need for Work Without Fear. As a result, we have gained 29 co-sponsors who agree that immigrant labor abuse is unwelcome in Illinois. Director of Policy and Advocacy Sarah Labadie advocated alongside other partners and advocates for the passage of the Work Without Fear Act, which aims to protect workers in Illinois from immigration-based threats for speaking out against labor violations.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s Black History Month Celebration

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson held his Black History Month Celebration at the Chicago Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 21st. Women Employed’s President and CEO, Cherita Ellens and Executive Vice President of Policy, Programs, and Research, Sharmili Majmudar were in attendance along with S. Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby, Chief of Policy, City of Chicago, Mara Heneghan , First Deputy, Policy, Office of the Mayor, City of Chicago and Anwulika (Lynette) Anigbo, Director of Development at the Invisible Institute, and Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, 48th Ward Alderperson — all of whom are included in the photo below — along with so many others not pictured.

Pathway From Crisis to Inclusion: Equity in Education and the Workforce

More than 100 students, community members, and campus stakeholders, including WE’s Tara Driver and Cherita Ellens, attended “Pathway from Crises to Inclusion: Equity in Education and in the Workforce” on Thursday, February 22nd. Hosted by Chicago State University (CSU), along with the National Urban League, the 2024 Presidential Lecture series engaged participants in impactful discussions surrounding equity in higher education and being Black in business.

Apna Ghar Site Visit

WE’s Career Pathways team visited Apna Ghar, an organization working to end gender violence, on Monday, February 26th. WE’s Senior Career Pathways Manager, Tara Driver, and Programs and Research Coordinator, Efrata Sasahulih, observed their class session and answered participants’ questions.

Career Foundations is Women Employed’s career exploration course designed to help participants develop a career pathway plan leading to sustainable careers. WE created a version of Career Foundations designed to address the barriers that domestic violence survivors face when trying to navigate workforce services, based on our Intersecting Barriers: Challenges to Economic Empowerment for Domestic Violence Survivors report, released in January 2022. The report was created using research that sought to further understanding of the barriers to economic independence faced by survivors by gathering the insights of survivors, domestic violence advocates, and workforce development professionals representing 23 Chicagoland organizations.

Hustle. Play. Love.

On Tuesday, February 27th, WE’s Chief of Staff, Mary Kay Devine appeared on CAN TV’s Hustle. Play. Love. Hosted by author and journalist, Shawn Taylor, this episode explored award-winning workplaces and how to cultivate a work culture and environment that inspires loyalty, productivity, and happy employees. Joining Mary Kay for this discussion was Becky Carroll, President and CEO of C-Strategies Inc. To watch the episode, click here.

Women’s Leadership Symposium on Economic Empowerment

On February 29th, WE’s Sharmili Majmudar participated in Roosevelt University’s second annual Women’s Leadership Symposium. Moderated by WBEZ Race, Class, and Communities reporter, Natalie Moore, the event addressed topics including barriers to accessing capital, juggling multiple identities such as primary household earner and caregiver, building wealth and generational wealth, entrepreneurship, and the new Illinois pay transparency law that will go into effect in 2025.

Joining Sharmili on the panel were Collete English Dixon, Executive Director of the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate and Maria Chavez, who leads the Midwest & Canada Treasury Services teams for Corporate Client Banking & Specialized Industries at J.P. Morgan.

IL Education and Career Success Network’s Awareness to Action: The 2024 Success Network Conference

WE’s Tara Driver and Efrata Sasahulih, along with Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) partner Annette Phillips, attended the 2024 Illinois and Career Success Network’s Awareness to Action Conference on Thursday, February 29th. With sessions on supporting student success by leveraging state frameworks, FAFSA simplification, racial diversity on Illinois’ campuses after Affirmative Action, and more, the conference served as an engaging learning opportunity designed for leaders from secondary and postsecondary education, local and state government, community-based organizations, policy advocates, grant makers, employers, and other stakeholders interested in equitably increasing postsecondary attainment in Illinois.

The ACLU Lunch: Fighting For a More Perfect Union

The ACLU of Illinois held their annual Lunch on Friday, March 1st. With New York Times Best-Selling author, actor, activist, writer and previous late-night talk show host of Busy Tonight, Busy Philipps, as this year’s keynote speaker, the in-person and virtual event celebrated the Illinois chapter’s work over the past year, recommitted to the ongoing fight for civil rights and civil liberties, and raised funds critical to ACLU of Illinois’ work. There was also a performance by Young Chicago Authors Poet Chima “Naira” Ikoro, as well as remarks from ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen K. Connell, and Cook County Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell, Jr. WE’s Cherita Ellens, Sharmili Majmudar, and Sarah Labadie attended the event. Click here to watch the recording.

Commission on Equitable Public University Funding Report Press Conference

On Wednesday, March 6th, WE’s Sarah Labadie joined Leader Kimberly Lightford, Rep. Carol Ammons, partners, and students for a press conference announcing the release of recommendations for equitable higher ed funding in Illinois and discussing the path forward. After 2 years of intense work, the Commission released its final report with recommendations for a new approach to public university funding. The report is available here.

The Commission’s recommendations are an essential step toward a more equitable higher education system in Illinois, one that addresses decades of underinvestment due to systemic racism. WE looks forward to working with our partners to move from recommendations to a formula for equitable funding.

44th Annual Illinois Adult and Continuing Education Association (IACEA) Conference

The Illinois Adult and Continuing Education Association (IACEA) held their 44th annual conference March 6–8, 2024, in Springfield, IL. WE’s Director of Policy and Programs, Chris Warden, joined Illinois adult educators for three days of networking, learning from one another, and uplifting the voices of adult students who are building their English language proficiency and overcoming academic barriers to employment. Attendees also advocated moving forward on a new state policy that would allow adult students access to federal financial aid to pay for dual enrollment programs so they can earn college credit and/or certificates with value in the labor market.

Amanda Sousa’s Baby Shower

What better way to celebrate Women’s History Month than by showering our very own Senior Development Officer Amanda Sousa on the impending arrival of her baby girl. And on the eve of International Women’s Day at that! WE staff gathered in the office for the special occasion, enjoying lunch, cake, games, and well wishes. Congratulations, Amanda! We can’t wait to meet your little one!

Chicago Bar Association Women’s History Month Event

Sharmili Majmudar presented at the Chicago Bar Association’s Annual Women’s History Month Summit entitled “Secrets to Self-Advocacy: Negotiating Compensation and Prioritizing Balance to Achieve Career Success” on Thursday, March 7th. The event focused on how women lawyers can advocate for themselves as they negotiate compensation, and as they set boundaries to prioritize well-being. Sharmili and Director of the Illinois Department of Labor, Jane Flanagan, co-presented on the state of pay equity, equal pay laws, and pay transparency.

Mujeres Latinas en Acción

Starr De Los Santos and Sharmili Majmudar were invited as guests to Mujeres Latinas en Acción’s 50th anniversary celebration entitled “Voces Unidas 2024: Our Story” at the Hyatt Regency on Friday, March 8th. Mujeres Latinas en Acción has been a strong partner of Women Employed’s over many years, and currently serves alongside us on the Steering Committee of Equal Pay Chicago Coalition (EPCC) and is a Women’s Economic Power Agenda (WEPA) planning partner. We were so happy to have been able to celebrate this milestone with our partners!

Chicago Foundation for Women LGBTQ Day of Dance

On Saturday, March 9th, Starr De Los Santos attended the Chicago Foundation for Women’s LGBTQ Day of Dance. Following a four-year hiatus, guests gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day with proceeds going towards grants made by the LBTQ Giving Council to organizations and programs benefiting lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning women and girls in the Chicago region.

Memorial Service for Marilyn Katz

Mary Kay Devine represented Women Employed at a memorial service for writer, activist, and political consultant, Marilyn Katz, on Sunday, March 10th. The list of speakers was filled with dignitaries and elected officials―all of whom held close and personal relationships with Marilyn over the years.

As the program book shared, “She wanted a city and a country that would work for the many, not just the few. . . She paired her principles with her love for this city, and devoted much of her working life to building a more just, affordable, and equitable Chicago.”

WE are proud to have partnered with Marilyn to ensure the issues of women and families were front and center in pursuit of making the world a better place.

City Colleges of Chicago Discussion

On Monday, March 11th, Chris Warden attended a discussion at the City Colleges of Chicago on the educational goals of their target constituency and opportunities available through City Colleges of Chicago to support their educational and career advancement. Hosted by WE Board Director Jen Mason, who is the Vice Chancellor for Legislative and Community Affairs at the City Colleges of Chicago, the discussion sought ways to best position and co-create an easy and clear process for supporting stakeholders to access the pathways of support, education, and training that best meet their needs.

Equal Pay Chicago Coalition’s Pay Transparency Webinar

The Equal Pay Chicago Coalition held the first installment of their 2024 Pay Equity Series: Making Salary Transparency Work on March 11th. The vibrant equal pay day conversation touched on the significance of pay equity, how salary transparency helps foster a more inclusive workplace, lessons learned from employers who are already implementing salary transparency, and more!

Panelists and moderator included:

  • Moji Akinde, Director of Social Impact & Financial Inclusion, Discover Financial Services
  • Katrina Johnson Jones, Director, Human Resources, Compensation — Acquisition and Divestitures, BMO U.S. Financial Group
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff, Dr. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, City of Chicago
  • Juliana Stratton, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
  • Moderator: Sharmili Majmudar, Executive Vice President of Policy, Programs, and Research, Women Employed, Steering Committee Member, Equal Pay Chicago Coalition

Click here to watch the replay.

2024 Legislator Education Forum

The 2024 Legislator Education Forum, Illinois Higher Education: Building a Framework for Funding Equity, Adequacy, & Transparency, took place on Wednesday, March 13th. WE’s Sarah Labadie stepped in for Senator Kimberly Lightford, who was unable to attend, joining experts Brian Prescott, President of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), and Dr. Kayla C. Elliott, Director of Workforce Policy at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, for a panel discussion on elevating student perspectives. The event also included insights from leaders in the Illinois higher education landscape who discussed the need to reimagine higher education funding in Illinois, as well as a Q&A.

Good Jobs Chicago’s Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics (TDL) Community Convenor Breakfast

Chris Warden attended Good Jobs Chicago’s Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics (TDL) Community Convenor Breakfast on Wednesday, March 13th. Taking place at Olive Harvey College, guests came together to celebrate the approval of the first TDL training plan under Good Jobs Chicago for AAR Corp., provider of aircraft maintenance services. Attendees also explored the theme of “Outcomes vs. Impact” which ignited insightful discussions of their common goals within the Good Jobs Challenge.

Erie Neighborhood House Site Visit

On Thursday, March 14th, Tara Driver and Efrata Sasahulih participated in a site visit at Erie Neighborhood House. There, they joined students and instructor, Jose Mosquera, in their Intermediate ESL class, which embeds our Career Foundations program in their curriculum.

HC3 Presents: Future of Work Series Empowering Women in the Workplace: Equitable Compensation and Well-Being

On Monday, March 18, Health Care Council of Chicago (HC3) held their Future of Work Series, focusing on empowering women and advocating for fair compensation and well-being in the workplace in celebration of International Women’s Month. The panel discussion, moderated by HC3’s Meghan Phillipp, Executive Director, and featuring WE’s Tara Driver and Shikha Jain MD, FACP, President & CEO Founder, Women in Medicine®, was centered around the enduring challenge of achieving fair compensation for women, a primary contributor to burnout that impacts hiring processes, performance outcomes, and job satisfaction.


Tara Driver represented WE on March 18th, at Loretto Hospital’s annual Women’s History Month celebration, Lead.Her.Ship.: Securing the Insecure. The event focused on the impact of food, housing, and financial security, and featured panelists Tesa Anewishki, President and CEO, Loretto Hospital; Senator Kimberly Lightford, Senate Majority Leader, Illinois State Senate; Kristen Ward, Director, Partnerships, GOODR Grocery Store; Ayesha Jaco, Executive Director, West Side United; Ruby Ferguson, Senior Director, Greater Chicago Food Depository; Athena Williams, Oak Park Housing Center; Brenda Palms, North Lawndale Employment Network; Ruby Ferguson, Greater Chicago Food Depository; and was hosted by Journalist, Audrina Sinclair.

The 2024 Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Awards

The Chicago Foundation for Women held their annual Impact Awards on Wednesday, March 20th. WE President and CEO, and 2023 Impact Award recipient, Cherita Ellens, served on the selection committee for the 2024 Impact Awards, and Mary Kay Devine and Sharmili Majmudar were in attendance as individuals and organizations were honored for their work in ensuring women and girls have the support they need to succeed. This year’s honorees included:

· Jacky Grimshaw, Vice President for Policy, Center for Neighborhood Technology

· Tara Mallen, Founder and Artistic Director, Rivendell Theatre

· Madeleine A. Behr, Policy Director, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

· Araceli Lucio, Ellas Founder, and Community Health Advocate Coordinator, The Resurrection Project

· Michelle Martin, Program Coordinator, Dress for Success

· Stephanie Love-Patterson, Executive Director, CAWC

· Janice Feinberg, PharmD, JD, President, The Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation

· Fondation Chanel

· M.E.A.N. Girls Empowerment

Congratulations to all of the 2024 Impact Award Honorees!

Women’s History Month Resolution at City Council Meeting

Sharmili Majmudar attended a Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, March 20th, where Mayor Brandon Johnson presented a Women’s History Month resolution. Thank you to the Chicago Mayor’s Office and City Council for commemorating Women’s History Month by honoring The Network, our community partners, and the amazing leaders on your team.

Chicago Federation of Labor 10th Annual Women’s Luncheon

On Thursday, March 21st, the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) held their 10th annual Women’s Luncheon at IBEW Union Hall. Director of Policy and Programs Chris Warden attended the luncheon on behalf of WE, as we strongly support labor rights and have worked closely with CFL on some of the most important advancements around workplace rights in the City in the last decade, including paid leave, fair scheduling, and minimum wage increases.

Work Without Fear Rally

WE joined hundreds of workers and our Work Without Fear Act Coalition partners―led by Raise the Floor Alliance―at a rally and advocacy day in Springfield on March 21st to support the Work Without Fear Act (HB 5071 / SB 3464) and eliminate immigration-related retaliation by employers when workers try to exercise their workplace rights. Special thanks to our very own Starr De Los Santos and Sarah Labadie for attending!

ScaleLIT’s Annual Beyond Books (Supporting Adult Literacy) Fundraiser

ScaleLIT held their annual Beyond Books Fundraiser on Sunday, March 24th. At the event, which supports adult literacy, ScaleLIT recognized Andrea Sáenz as their 2024 Literacy Leader and Susana Ortiz from Erie Neighborhood House as the 2024 Shirley Jenkins Adult Practitioner Award winner for their outstanding work and dedication! Attending this celebration were WE’s Efrata Sasahulih, Tara Driver, Mary Kay Devine, Mena Enuenwosu, and Chris Warden.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s Women’s History Month Celebration

On Tuesday, March 18th, Mayor Brandon Johnson held a Women’s History Month celebration at the Chicago Cultural Center. Joining city officials and community leaders were WE’s Tara Driver and Starr De Los Santos, and former WE staff member, Christina Perez.

Innovate Like a Woman: Transformative Leadership Against the Odds

Rounding out Women’s History Month, WE’s President & CEO, Cherita Ellens, participated in a dynamic discussion at the Tuesday, March 26th sold out event hosted by SMG Speakers at The Metropolitan titled, “Innovate Like a Woman: Transformative Leadership Against the Odds.”

Cherita joined Kim Corley, CEO, Cake and a Prayer and Connie L. Lindsey, Former EVP, Consultant, Non-Profit Leader in conversation with moderator, Dr. Jeanne Porter King, President, Transporter Group.

It was an unparalleled evening where these trailblazers united to offer practical insights on unleashing potential, leading with heart, and driving progress through bold actions.

This event not only spotlighted the internal and external challenges of effecting transformative change but also provided attendees with powerful strategies to navigate obstacles, disarm critics, and spearhead systemic disruption.

Still to come!

4/11: Sisterhood Sip & Solutions After Work Mixer

· RSVP: email Nicole Baldwin at nbaldwin@aidschicago.org

5/9: Chicago Leaders: A Panel Discussion About the Future of Social Security

· Register: https://bit.ly/3PCA3X5

5/23: The Working Lunch

· Purchase your tables and tickets: https://womenemployed.org/the-working-lunch/



Women Employed

WE relentlessly pursue equity for women in the workforce by effecting policy change, expanding access to education, & advocating for fair, inclusive workplaces.